For me, it was two horses racing at opposite ends of the distance spectrum that produced the most impressive performances at Royal Ascot, one scoring easily by three lengths, the other all out for a short-head success. Very different victories, but each utterly compelling.
Big Orange, one of the most popular thoroughbreds in training, enhanced his considerable reputation with a brilliant display in the Gold Cup under James Doyle. The six-year-old used his giant stride and never-say-die attitude to maximum effect in the 2m4f showpiece, making most of the running to deny the previous year’s victor Order Of St George in a pulsating finish.
Owner-breeder Bill Gredley has seen his famous silks carried to big-race triumphs by the likes of User Friendly and Environment Friend, and Big Orange must surely have given him as much pleasure as that top-class duo. As someone who enjoyed watching stayers such as Further Flight, Persian Punch and Yeats race season after season, I hope Big Orange will be around for years to come. We needs these star stayers to race on and resonate with the public.
We needs these star stayers to race on and resonate with the public
Lady Aurelia had already displayed her prowess at Royal Ascot as a two-year-old with her scintillating victory in last year’s Queen Mary Stakes. The only three-year-old to line up in this year’s King’s Stand Stakes, the Wesley Ward-trained runner blew the opposition away, proving far too good for Group 1 winners Profitable and Marsha.
The Commonwealth Cup, won this year by Caravaggio, was introduced to give the three-year-old generation their own championship away from the older sprinters. The race is now tremendously competitive, a sign of its success.
Lady Aurelia’s raw pace may mean she is not as effective over six furlongs (despite winning the Group 1 Prix Morny at that distance). However the weight concession – as a filly she carried 9lb less than the runner-up – suggests other trainers may be missing a trick in not targeting the five-furlong prize.
Like Frankie Dettori, who missed the rides on Big Orange and Lady Aurelia due to injury, Ger Lyons didn’t make it to the winner’s enclosure at Royal Ascot this year, but the County Meath handler is sure to put that right in future.
Competing successfully against Aidan O’Brien, Jim Bolger and Dermot Weld in the Irish championship might appear an impossible task for someone lacking both their owner numbers and buying power, yet Lyons has proved it can be done with a mixture of hard work and shrewd buys in the ring.
Clearly undaunted by the prospect of taking on these giants every day, the trainer actually views their influence as a positive thing.
“We meet Aidan O’Brien’s runners every day here, whereas you guys in England may meet the top stables mainly at weekends,” Lyons tells Tim Richards (Talking To, pages 40-44). “Some trainers might call that a curse, but I consider it a good thing. I regard myself as a much better trainer as a result of competing with the elite.
“Aidan raises the bar every year and I applaud him for that because I have to keep trying to improve my own standards to stay anywhere near him. The only difference is I can’t afford Galileos.
“I have the best staff, the best facilities and I do the best with what I have. Training, in my opinion, is about sourcing the horses. If you just sit back and wait for what comes through the gate then you will be disappointed and quickly go out of business.
“However, if you buy something you’d like to train you have more idea of what you’re getting and there might even be a bonus at the end. Sadly, we have to keep selling to stay in business, which makes the job of keeping in touch with the top stables all the more difficult.”
How Lyons and his colleagues will be affected by Brexit is yet to be determined. However, according to Paul Greeves, Deputy Chairman of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, the Irish industry could be hardest hit by changes to the tripartite agreement. Greeves (The Big Issue, pages 50-52) explains what steps have been taken to understand the possible consequences of Brexit and why the TBA is taking the lead in this matter.